Ellen Mackenzie - Shark Conservation in Fiji
In April 2014 I was lucky enough to volunteer on this amazing project, and in such a vibrant destination, for one month. On this project you get to take part in shark survey dives, community outreach, mangrove reforestation work, shark tagging and an incredible dive with up to 40 or 50 bull sharks. They are such majestic creatures that will leave you awe-struck and bubbling with excitement as you observe them 30 metres under the surface.
My Shark Conservation Placement
I learnt to dive a few years back, but had done little diving since and was very much looking forward to seeing some of the beautiful marine life in the waters surrounding this island. I was glad of the opportunity to do an advanced diving course to both refresh my diving training and learn new skills. However, you do not need any previous diving experience to take part in the project.
On this project I also took part in shark tagging, which involves being on a boat for many hours surrounded by some of the island’s best scenery and some stunning sunsets and sunrises. If you’re lucky enough you may even be able to see a baby bull shark in the flesh, if not fortunate enough to catch one! We also spent time in local villages and helped to build mangrove nurseries alongside help from the local Fijian people.
Staying in Fiji
Volunteering in Fiji was to be the last and final destination of my seven month trip across Asia and Oceania, and the furthest I had ever been (or ever could be) from my home in the UK - literally the other side of the planet!
I am so glad I decided to include Fiji in my travels as it is an enchanting place to stay - from the local villages, to the beaches, to the reefs full of shimmering fish and abounding sea life, to the charming villas where you get to stay during your project. One of these villas also happens to be home to two very cute little puppies!
I spent many hours lying on the grass in the sunshine, soaking up the atmosphere of this idyllic setting amongst the chirping birds and lush greenery.
Working with sharks
Like a lot of people whose perceptions of sharks have been skewed by the media, I’d been scared of sharks in the past and was a little worried of the risk of diving in such close proximity to them. However, soon the enthusiasm of the team and the other volunteers rubs off on you, and by the time you are about to embark on your first shark dive all the fear and nerves have disappeared and been replaced by such thrill and excitement for the wonderful experience. When it’s over all that’s on your mind is sharks, sharks and more sharks, and you can’t wait to see more!
After a while you become more and more educated about the reality of these supposedly notorious predators, and realise that they are in fact not to be feared by us, but to be respected and protected.
You learn so much about the vital need to protect them from finning, overfishing and exploitation and just how distorted our common conception of sharks is. I left this project so much more knowledgeable and enthusiastic to do more diving and of course, to see more sharks!
I’ve learnt so much about this vitally important environmental issue and the value of the conservation work being carried out on this project, of which I had been a part. It is located in such a beautiful setting which only adds to making the experience very memorable.